Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lesson 6: Christ's Death and the Law

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Christ and His Law
Lesson 6: Christ's Death and the Law

At the very end of our lesson there is a discussion question that asks, what are reasons why the belief that God's law was abolished after the cross is false; what do people really mean, and what commandment do they say was abolished?
Opponents of the Sabbath truth for decades have used Colossians 2:13-17 in an effort to overthrow the Christian observance of the seventh-day Sabbath. "The Ten Commandments were nailed to the cross," they exult. "The seventh-day Sabbath was only 'a shadow of things to come.' Now that Christ has come, 'let no man therefore judge you ... in respect of .. the Sabbath.'" We know that the Ten Commandments were not nailed to the cross, and we know that the Sabbath is still the true Lord's day.
But what was "contrary to us" that was "taken out of the way, nailing it to His cross"? Ellen White comments on this passage:
"There is a law which was abolished, which Christ 'took out of the way, nailing it to His cross.' Paul calls it 'the law of commandments contained in ordinances.' This ceremonial law, given by God through Moses, with its sacrifices and ordinances, was to be binding upon the Hebrews until type met antitype in the death of Christ as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world." [1]
In another passage Ellen White goes deeper into the spiritual significance of Paul's idea. It's more than the Jew-Gentile alienation that was a local problem two thousand years ago. Ellen White sees that Paul is speaking of the spiritual problem in our own hearts today:
"The mercy seat upon which the glory of God rested in the holiest of all, is opened to all who accept Christ as the propitiation for sin, and through its medium they are brought into fellowship with God. The veil is rent, the partition walls broken down, the handwriting of ordinances cancelled. By virtue of His blood the enmity is abolished. Through faith in Christ Jew and Gentile may partake of the living bread." [2]
While it is true that the ceremonial law with its provisions about "meat" and "drink" and the "new moon" was abolished by the sacrifice of Christ, obviously she saw that is not all that Paul intended to say. Why was it that abolishing the ceremonial law "disarmed principalities and powers, ... triumphing over them in it" (vs. 15)? To say that the ceremonial law was nailed to the cross is correct; but what lies beneath the surface here?
Was the ceremonial law "against us, ... contrary to us"? The Hellenistic Jews considered that at least one provision of it was circumcision. But we understand that the Levitical system in general foreshadowed the ministry and sacrifice of Christ. In Old Testament times it pointed "our" faith forward to Him.
What were the evil "principalities and powers" that were "triumphed over" at the cross? According to Paul's context, there was something fundamentally bad in what was "nailed" there, something "against us."
Insights from the 1888 message put focus on the selfish pride that exists in the flesh. The problem was "enmity" in human hearts, which Ellen White recognizes in her phrase, "The enmity is abolished" so that we "are brought into fellowship with God." That enmity indeedwas "against us"! The Greek word translated "handwriting" ischeirographon, which means "a document written by hand." In Paul's day the word referred to a legal document or bond signed by a debtor--a mortgage, in our language. The "blotting out" was the washing of the water-soluble ink, thus erasing the handwritten evidence of the debt. Perhaps the clearest modern equivalent for us would be the burning of a mortgage with the resultant sense of exultation that no more debt hangs over us.
Did Christ accomplish something like this for us on His cross? Paul's vigorous thought says, yes. His immediate context is his exulting praise to God for "having forgiven you all trespasses" (vs. 13). Then in the same sentence, using the participial form of the verb, he explains how Christ forgave us all our trespasses--it was by "blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (vs. 14, KJV). Knowing how Paul loves to glory in the cross of Christ, it becomes clear that he is speaking of the record of our trespasses being blotted out. It was a legal document which was indeed truly "against us, ... contrary to us," and which was erased and taken "out of the way" at the cross.
What was "abolished in [Christ's] flesh" was not the law itself but the age-old enmity which was encouraged by a fear-motivated legalism. Peter in Acts 15:10 referred to the "yoke ... which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear" as circumcision and "the law of Moses." Circumcision was instituted because of Abraham's unbelief in taking Hagar (Gen. 16, 17). "The law of Moses" was imposed on the people because of their unbelief in bringing on themselves the old covenant at Sinai (Ex. 19:8). What was "abolished" at the cross was the fear-laden enmity and guilt generated by that unbelief. Thus circumcision and "the law of Moses" came to an end at the cross; but in principle something more fundamental also came to an end there, says Paul--sin itself was conquered, with its resultant alienation from God.
Christ indeed redeemed the entire human race by His sacrifice, "abolished [the second] death," uprooted the fear that haunts mankind, has "drawn the sting of all the powers ranged against us," chained Satan and his evil "principalities" to His triumphal chariot in His victory procession, cancelled the "handwritten" record of our trespasses which we ourselves had signed as our indebtedness to be paid for by our own second death, and reversed the "condemnation" that came on "all men" in Adam, pronouncing on "all men" a glorious "verdict of acquittal."
The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, and prompts us to continual overcoming. But in view of the cross, we are to "let no man therefore judge you" or lay upon us a guilt trip for trespasses paid for by Christ's sacrifice. We are to "let no man beguile" us of our "reward" through the false teachings of a "fleshly mind" (Col. 2:16-18). Paul's meaning for the Colossians of his day included deliverance from the regulations of the ceremonial law, but it also had reference to the infinitely greater good news of deliverance from every vestige of Satan's tyranny over our souls. That is the idea which is at the heart of the "third angel's message in verity"--deliverance from the galling yoke of sin. [3] It is possible for a people to prepare for the second coming of Christ!
That's good news for these last hours of earth's history. Untold millions are waiting to hear it.
--From the Writings of Robert J. Wieland
[1] Bible Echo, April 16, 1894.
[2] Letter 230, 1907; Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1109.
[3] In referring to the Minneapolis 1888 General Conference Session, Ellen G. White wrote: "Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel's message, and I have answered, 'It is the third angel's message in verity.'
"The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders [E.J.] Waggoner and [A. T.] Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God" (Last Day Events, pp. 199-200).
--------------------------------------------------------Please forward these messages to your friends and encourage them to subscribe. 

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: http://1888mpm.org

To subscribe send an e-mail message with "subscribe" in the body of the message to sabbathschooltoday@1888message.org